Iron Yard closes ‘significant’ investment from University of Phoenix owner

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Based in Greenville, one of the planet’s largest coding schools expects to graduate 1,000 developers this year, and it’s about to get a lot bigger, a lot faster.

Coding school The Iron Yard closed on a “significant” investment from higher-learning behemoth Apollo Education Group, owner of University of Pheonix and other institutions.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Apollo’s size dictates that “they’re not the type of company where it makes a difference to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said The Iron Yard CEO Peter Barth.

The investment will accelerate the tech company’s growth, help the school expand internationally and open opportunities for new content and customers, said Barth.

peter barth
Peter Barth

“We’ve done really well with domestic growth, so when we were looking at going overseas, it’s completely unknown to us,” said Barth from the The Iron Yard’s corporate headquarters in Greenville, which he calls The Iron Yard’s “long-term home.” “We ended up going with Apollo for a number of reasons, but mainly domain expertise and resources…They have schools in India and Africa and Australia, so in addition to capital, what they bring is they have international expertise. No other VC firm had that.”

Now with 70 full time employees from a mere four in January 2014, The Iron Yard has grown leaps and bounds since it started more than two years ago, said Barth, who expects staff to double in the next 12 months. The school adds about four locations per session and announced its first international presence last week, but backing from Apollo brings in capital to jumpstart more schools and branch out in other ways.

For instance, many current Iron Yard graduates may want to boost their skills and knowledge, even while actively working in the field, said Barth.

“They’ve really developed a hunger for education, and the boot camp will never again make sense for that person,” he said. “There’s a real opportunity there for continuing education.”

Other plans include training from the corporate level, where a company wants to boost the skill level of their existing workforce with a combination of in-person and distance learning. The Iron Yard could go as far as targeting sales and marketing personnel via content around data science and analytics, he said.

“Ultimately, our customer is tech companies,” he said. “We’re already working with them on the employment side, so what other needs do they have?”

Barth said the Apollo investment won’t come with operational changes, and that The Iron Yard isn’t moving towards accreditation.

“Our core belief about accreditation is accredited education is not really all that meaningful in this world, in the tech space,” he said. “There are plenty of companies that require degrees, but the trend is that it’s really about the skill set.

His sentiment matches that of the Apollo Education Group CEO Greg Cappelli’s statement in Apollo’s second fiscal quarter earnings release, which reported a 14 percent drop in net revenue year over year.

“In a time of unprecedented change in the higher education industry, we are focused on enhancing outcomes through a deep understanding of student and employer needs,” he said in a news release. “We are aligning education to careers, offering students tangible skills and helping employers develop a high-performance workforce.”

Apollo Education Group did not respond to media requests for comment.

Founded in 1973, Phoenix-based Apollo Education Group owns companies that offer undergraduate, graduate, professional development and other non-degree programs both online and in-person throughout the U.S., Europe, Australia, Latin America, Africa and Asia. The company’s revenue dropped 14 percent to $578.6 million for the second quarter fiscal 2015 compared to the same period last year. Apollo attributed part of the loss to declining enrollment, down 15 percent from a year ago to 213,800 degreed students. Five years ago, enrollment was about 460,000, according to filings.

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